SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he doesn't just want to defeat the November ballot measure that would suspend the state's greenhouse gas emissions law – he wants voters to trounce it to prompt Washington to create a new national energy policy.
Speaking in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger characterized Proposition 23 as a battle between out-of-state oil interests and environmental progress.
"Now, there's some Texan oil companies, they don't like our environmental laws," the Republican governor told the audience at the Willie L. Brown Jr. Institute annual breakfast. "And so I want to ask all of you to do everything you can to make everyone vote 'no' on this proposition."
The petroleum industry has spent millions to promote the measure, which would indefinitely suspend AB32, California's 2006 law mandating significant emissions reductions by 2020. Supporters say such a move is necessary to protect small businesses and save jobs in a state where unemployment is at 12.4 percent.
Critics say that argument masks greed and self-interest among oil industry executives. They contend AB32, which is scheduled to take effect in 2012, ultimately would create more jobs than it eliminates in the short term.
Schwarzenegger called for voters to send a clear message to Proposition 23's backers.
"It's very important that we push back, and it is important that we do it with a huge victory, a huge margin," he said Tuesday. "Then we can go to Washington and say, 'Let's go and set a national energy policy.'"
The governor's remarks kicked off a series of events organized by Proposition 23 opponents. Later in the day, a group of 68 venture capitalists and investors issued a joint statement against the measure, calling it "shortsighted and counterproductive" and a threat to the state's position as a clean-energy leader.
In the four years since AB32 was approved, $9 billion has been invested in clean technology in California and more than a million Californians are employed in clean-tech jobs, the statement said.
"This isn't about wearing hemp and adopting a totally new kind of lifestyle," said Alan Salzman, CEO and managing partner of the California-based VantagePoint Venture Partners. "Through this innovation, we are driving to make the energy, water and materials we use cheaper and better than today's fossil fuel-based solutions."
The investors, who collectively manage more than $415 billion in assets, warned that Proposition 23 could put that innovation in jeopardy.
"Proposition 23 is a classic example of short-term thinking that could destroy long-term opportunity and growth in California," said Chris Davis, director of investor programs at Ceres, a Boston-based investment network that focuses on environmental sustainability.
A spokesman for Valero Corp. of Texas, one of three oil companies that have contributed the bulk of the money to Proposition 23, said that if the measure fails, California's independent refiners will suffer and the state's reliance on cheap overseas oil will increase – the exact outcome Proposition 23 opponents say they want to prevent.
"That's why we're saying this is not the right time for AB32," said the spokesman, Bill Day.
Day also noted that the campaign to defeat Proposition 23 is currently outspending the oil companies by a large margin.
The No on 23 campaign reported $12.6 million in donations as of Sept. 30, with significant backing from the Natural Resources Defense Council and several Northern California investors.
So far this month, it has brought in an additional $10.6 million, thanks in part to major donations from the National Wildlife Federation and movie director James Cameron.
The Yes on 23 campaign, meanwhile, reported raising $8.3 million in the first nine months of this year and has raised at least $724,000 since then. In addition to Valero, the main contributors have been Tesoro Corp. of Texas, and Flint Hills Resources, a Wichita, Kan., company owned by Koch Industries.
Some Proposition 23 opponents are using humor to call attention to the serious issues at stake. Actor David Arquette, who is known for his oddball antics on and off screen, appeared in Sacramento on Tuesday with green-technology advocates to premiere a series of short films critical of the initiative.
The spots will run on YouTube and other websites and aim to appeal to young voters, producers said. One of the videos, "Don't Mess with California," depicts Arquette as California, knocking out a group of thugs who represent Texas oil companies.
"California has green jobs, and special interests and people from out of state and big corporations are trying to stop these green jobs," said Arquette, clad in an American-flag-print karate uniform. "And it's up to us as people, as citizens, to stand up and not take it."
The latest efforts come on the heels of two recent polls that paint an unclear picture of Proposition 23's chances. A Field Poll released Sept. 26 found 45 percent of likely voters opposed the measure, while 34 percent supported it.
A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll released the previous week showed 40 percent of voters favoring the measure and 38 percent opposing it. One in five people surveyed said they had not yet taken a position on the initiative.